A ritual is a set of activities within a set of limitations that one perform repeatedly. The repetition explores what is possible within the frame, and eventually refines the ritual itself. A ceremony is different because it includes a cultural and often religious motive for performing the actions.
The ritualization of a task helps to raise the perceived meaningfulness because of the well-defined frame. I believe that a big reason for approaching BDSM is the meaninglessness of non-reproductive sex, and the same things go for tantric practices. In one way, they are prolonged foreplay, a tease. Just like a yoga or meditation practice contain several challenging steps to reach a rewarding end, so can a tantra or BDSM session.
Rituals also work as a social interaction point – they are something to be shared and flock together around. I believe that cultural status is built upon the rituals that we learn to master, as they open social doors and become an opportunity to absorb unspoken skills. I remember when being introduced to the tea ceremony in Japan, by spending time with this master, I learnt the context of the jokes he made and the balance between being strict and accommodating. Of course, there are no clear rules that specify how to behave. It is instead a slow transfer of habits and ways. The same is true in BDSM when learning to flog, or tie ropes.
In a western learning tradition, a good teacher can explain many details of their craft. In an eastern learning tradition, a good teacher provides a unique environment to show themselves. There is a saying that rope bondage master can not teach a tie; it is the student that has to steal it. A good ritual is always improvisation, or another way of putting it, it leaves room to experiment. The older and more refined the frame is, the harder it might be to see the points of improvisation from the outside. It is only so because the most striking aspects have been explored in depths already, and therefore the details remain. Playing with rituals is a way to invite for this exploration, and to allow others to steal some of your BDSM knowledge.
This was written as an introduction to the second of a series of fifteen workshops on the theme of #the in-between space.